Ugandan Inventor Designs Smart Jacket To Diagnose Pneumonia

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A prototype of the Mamaope smart jacket, worn here by a child. Photo Credit: Brett Eloff/The Royal Academy of Engineering

Brian Turyabagye, a young Ugandan engineer, has designed a biomedical “smart jacket” that can quickly and accurately diagnose pneumonia, an infection that inflames the lungs.

According to the United Nations Children Fund, pneumonia affects children far more than adults, killing an estimated 500,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa annually, with 27,000 of that number coming from Uganda alone.

The jacket, which has been dubbed “Mamaope” or “mother’s hope,” consists of a stethoscope embedded in to a wearable vest. It then hooks up to an android app (pictured below) on a mobile phone.

The app monitors a patient’s chest and listens for the sound of the lungs. It also checks one’s breathing rate and temperature. Analysis of the audio can lead to an early and accurate diagnosis of pneumonia.

Early trials already indicate that Mamaope can pick up early symptoms of pneumonia up to three times faster than conventional methods, eliminating the chances of costly misdiagnosis.

Medical experts believe the jacket can go on to greatly improve early detection and treatment of pneumonia in Africa.

The Mamaope android mobile app. Photo Credit: Brian Turyabagye
The Mamaope android mobile app.
Photo Credit: Brian Turyabagye

The symptoms of pneumonia can easily be mistaken for malaria, which is more prevalent in Africa, and cases of misdiagnosis by medical professionals are not uncommon.

In an interview with Face2Face Africa, 24-year-old Turyabagye, an engineering graduate of the prestigious Makerere University of Uganda, said he got the idea for Mamaope, after he watched a close friend lose his grandmother to pneumonia as a result of a costly misdiagnosis. In the aftermath of her death, he focused his research efforts on improving the diagnosis of pneumonia.

The “Mamaope smart jacket” can pick up symptoms of pneumonia, up to three times faster than conventional methods eliminating the chances of costly misdiagnosis. Photo Credit: Brian Turyabagye
The “Mamaope smart jacket” can pick up symptoms of pneumonia, up to three times faster than conventional methods eliminating the chances of costly misdiagnosis. Photo Credit: Brian Turyabagye

Turyabagye also said he has always been passionate about research and developing simple yet practical solutions for addressing the everyday challenges on the continent, “It was my passion to do research and development. I must say it was an opportunity being [a] part of iLabs@Mak Research group at Makerere University. This was one place that provided a good innovation environment with which we could try out many ideas which gave me the feeling that I could make a difference in creating solutions for the future.”

From conception to prototype release, the Mamaope jacket took just about half a year to create. His team includes Olivia Koburongo and Besufekad Shifferaw who are also co-founders of the jacket.

“It took us five months to get our first prototype, and [we] have up to this [point] worked on two more iterations…to fine tune it to what we have currently.”

A challenge of the project, though, was getting the appropriate materials needed.

“Getting materials to use on this product has been quite a lengthy process since most of them have to be imported and tested,” Turyabagye said.

As for how Turyabagye and his team secured funding for the project, in addition to his personal funds, an international grant was of great help, “Funding the processes up to this far was mainly with the help of the award money we got from the Big Ideas competition (hosted by University of Berkeley, California), where we came in 2nd in the Global Health category in 2015.”

Mamaope is currently undergoing further testing by Ugandan authorities to certify its use in hospitals and other health facilities. Turyabagye expects the jacket to retail for about $150 after the certification process is complete in the coming months.

In addition to Mamaope, Turyabagye has also worked on other apps, including KlassTab, an app for sharing notices and timetables among lecturers and students, and G-Zone, a system for garbage collection and sanitation services around cities.

 credit – face2faceafrica.com

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